Agenda item

Financial Debt and Arrears across the Council (4.40pm)


The Director of Finance introduced the item and explained that officers had undertaken a ‘deep dive’ into this subject by doing a whole systems approach.  She thanked colleagues who were present at the meeting for their work producing the report.  It was said this was the first time they had captured all the different streams of debt together in one place in this way. 


Finance officers introduced themselves and said that they were making progress to ensure business efficiencies were made in respect of sundry debt. Members asked the following questions


  • Members asked about the £8.8m showing on the Overpaid Housing Benefit and asked how the situation had arisen. The Director of Finance said that there were a number of different reasons for the figure and gave some examples of how the situation arises and explained how it works.  One of which relates to administration changes and then the issues in how it’s recovered for example from a landlord.  The Director said that the information was a current position in time and that the Council will get some of it back from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) but not all of it. She added that there is an age related debt summary because everything had an age profile too.


  • A Member asked about margins of error and highlighted her own experience of a miscalculation of council tax and ongoing issues with it and rented accommodation.  Officers said issues had been raised with the online forms.  The move out dates weren’t always correct and they recognised there was sometimes a problem with the dates when tenancies ended. The Member said there were gaps in the system and so if these problems arose people received large bills that are very difficult to resolve and they are chased for bills they aren’t liable for.  Apart from this being very hard on people it’s a waste of Council time and resources she said.  Officers said that sometimes they have three different dates to go by which can cause issues. 

Members asked officers to consider different ways to do this to help prevent it happening.  It was agreed that the officer and the Member would continue this conversation outside of the meeting. 


  • A brief discussion took place about whether debt (particularly in Adult Social Care p45) that’s over 4 years old would be written off.  Officers confirmed that it had not been written off no.  They said some of it related to probate and legal action which quite often took long periods to resolve. 
  • A question was asked about business rates collection figures.  One Members said that colleagues of his say they aren’t accurate enough, especially small businesses and ask if it could somehow be simplified?  Officers agreed this was a valid point.  But it was said that the responsibility of this sits with Central Government.  Local Authorities have been waiting for a number of years for a, review and re-set.  They said they had been told this would not now not happen until next year.  So, until the review takes place they have to operate within the parameters the Government has previously set.   The Member said that people think that it’s all set by local government. It was said there are officers that go out and advise small business but they said they do recognise that the system is creaking yes.
  • The Chair asked how Bristol City Council compares with other local authorities levels of debt. Officers said they didn’t know.  It was asked if other local authorities published this information? It was said they publish the figures for council tax and business rates collected but no other information, so there wasn’t really anything to compare with.  But they would take look into it. 


The Commission thanked Officers for producing the report and attending the meeting.




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